Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

B-corps be all they can be

Firms with designation put people, planet, profit first

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Manitoba Harvest Hemp Food has become the largest hemp food manufacturer in the world and prides itself on its environmental stewardship.

So when the Winnipeg company went looking for packaging alternatives for some of its products whose freshness is compromised with exposure to light and air, CEO Mike Fata and his team at Manitoba Harvest reached out for ideas from a six-year old U.S. organization called B-Lab (the "B" stands for "benefit").

It's still looking for the right packaging material, but it has gone on to apply to become a certified B-Corp -- for-profit businesses that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

A B-Corp business is committed to what's referred to as a triple bottom line -- people, planet, profit.

'We don't have a lot of resources to throw around, but we give preference to socially and environmentally responsible organizations and companies'

-- Manoverboard's Andrew Boardman

Kelly Saunderson, Manitoba Harvest's manager of corporate and public affairs, said, "We are in our 15th year, and we have always been about the triple bottom line. The idea is to use private industry to create a better public benefit. We really align with that as far as our principles and values and what we want to accomplish."

It may be too soon to call it a sensation that's sweeping the nation, but interest in socially responsible capitalism is growing.

Since launching in 2007, there are now 860 B-Corps in 29 countries, including 86 in Canada.

The B-Corp certification process creates a scorecard that quantifies socially and environmentally responsible behaviour -- such as subsidizing employee transit passes or exclusively using recyclable packaging -- that used to be perceived as intangibles.

Once the exclusive purview of off-beat alternative business and intensely environmentally-conscious operators, it's becoming a much more broadly accepted way of doing business.

Tonight, the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba (HRMAM) and Ian Martin Executive, a national staffing agency with an office in Winnipeg, are co-hosting an information session on the topic. (The Ian Martin Group was one of the first Canadian companies certified as a B-Corp.)

Yvonne Thompson, chairwoman of the HRMAM, said the organization is always looking to share information with members about what's available to them to move organizations forward.

"There's no question B-Corp is one of those opportunities that can raise the bar for companies," she said. "There is fairly clear evidence (it can make a difference). For instance, the recruitment process becomes more difficult because front-line employees and management people want to work for organizations that are connected to something bigger than just bottom-line profits. B-Corp aligns very well with that."

It may not be surprising Jeff Golfman's wheat-straw paper company, now called Prairie Paper, was the first Manitoba company to be a certified B-Corp. His company, like Manitoba Harvest, had the triple-bottom-line intention from the start.

It also makes sense for companies such as Andrew Boardman's three-person information technology company, Manoverboard, which has achieved B-Corp certification.

The transplanted New Yorker, who moved to Winnipeg, cut his teeth working at the Rockefeller Foundation. He wanted to find a way to combine social enterprise and dot-com.

"Non-profits were not getting the best they could get or getting over-charged and under-served," Boardman said. "So it's baked into our corporate DNA. We don't have a lot of resources to throw around, but we give preference to socially and environmentally responsible organizations and companies. I hope it distinguishes us a little in the kind of work we do and the kind of customers we take on."

Aaron Emery, who works at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing in Toronto and helps guide Canadian companies through the B-Corp certification process, said it's not just the traditional "do-gooder" cohort that's drawn to the idea of the entrepreneur having power to bring about social good.

"The conversation being had right now is coming at a time of economic crisis, where many are trying to re-think the system and meet the growing needs of retiring boomers and millennials coming into their own," he said. "It's a perfect time for the conversation."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2013 B5

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